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Celebrating without her: A daughter struggles with first Mother’s Day without Mom

Donna Dhein, who died Feb. 2, enjoys breakfast in bed in a photo fondly remembered by her daughter, reporter Megan Rowe. (Courtesy)
Donna Dhein, who died Feb. 2, enjoys breakfast in bed in a photo fondly remembered by her daughter, reporter Megan Rowe. (Courtesy)

I’ve been studying a photo of my mom lately, looking for clues. She’s sitting in bed, propped up by two pillows with a coffee cup in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I can’t tell if she has the Daily Herald or the Chicago Tribune – my family subscribed to both – but if I had to guess, it was likely a Sunday, which would mean Chicago Tribune.

Her hair is curly in the photo, must have been taken during her perm days. She later told me never, ever, ever perm your hair. Given that she was receiving breakfast-in-bed treatment, I assume this was either her birthday or Mother’s Day. She would know, but it’s too late to ask.

I’ve been studying the picture of Mom, hoping if I stared long enough, I could burst through the frame and give her a hug. Live just one more moment with her happy and healthy.

This is my first Mother’s Day since Mom died, a little over three months ago. Those three months would be more appropriately measured in years. Time is relative.

Maybe they always were, but Mother’s Day ads seemed ubiquitous, inescapable this year. Social media was inundated with potential gift ideas.

Both my Facebook and Instagram feeds featured an ad encouraging me to celebrate the special women in my life with the gift of multivitamins. Does anyone buy multivitamins for Mother’s Day? The suggestion seemed as passive aggressive as a gym membership.

Mom would have given me a “Really, Meg?” look. My mom’s looks had inflection. Perhaps your mom has that look in her repertoire. Even if she doesn’t, my suggestion is to memorize all of her looks. Make a point of studying your mom’s face as if you were planning to paint it. One day, you might want to.

Then again, had I tried this with mine, she would have said something like, “You’re freaking me out, quit it.”

Here’s my attempt: She was short, she inverse waddled because – like me – she was pigeon-toed and her voice sounded like a parrot with a Chicago accent. I am told I sound like her, but I do not sound like a parrot with a Chicago accent. She was strange and lovely, and for these reasons and infinite more, she was loved by many.

The only gift idea I might have considered was a picture frame that allowed anyone with the address to email photos. The photos popped into the frame, like magic. The looping video advertisement on Instagram was mesmerizing. Mom would have loved that gift; she lived in Wisconsin and was always texting, “Send more pictures!”

How much I wish I could send more pictures, videos of her grandchildren growing up, fill her in on the latest antics. Sometimes I think, “Oh, Mom will love this!” and remember all over again she is gone. The loss is so fresh I forget for a few moments until her absence comes rushing back.

I told my editors I wanted the paper to do a story about blocking certain ads for Mother’s Day. As a reporter, a lot of what I write stems from questions I want answered. Questions I think other people might want answered. Clearly, I did not write that story. I wrote this instead, with a warning: if you’re grieving the loss of your mother today, I don’t have any answers.

Recently my eldest was being bullied. Mom, what do I do when my heart breaks for my son? There are a few questions where the only source I’ll trust is my mom. And so I ask myself, what did she do for me? Everything she could. At our best, this is what parents do. I try to be the mother she was, because that’s the only way I know how to mother correctly. What she always said, what she always did: lead by example. Our children are paying attention to what we do, especially during the worst of times.

If you have a mom like mine, there never will be enough time. Still, she was only 64 and this feels unfair. But guess what? Chin up, buttercup. Just because I am grieving my way through Mother’s Day doesn’t make it not Mother’s Day. I cannot imagine this holiday not being difficult, but I don’t want to. Losing her has been hard: hard to breathe, hard to focus, hard to sleep, hard to wake.

Good, it ought to be. I am going to tackle all of it. I am strong because I was raised by a strong woman who always exhibited her strength through love. As far as I can tell, that’s the only point of being alive.

I will celebrate Mother’s Day the way she would have wanted, with love: love for my siblings, love for my children, and love for my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Yours always.

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